Interpreter - November/December 2010 - (Page 10)
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and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” Did that happen? Since the rise of modern science some 400 years ago, some scholars have treated that aspect of the Christmas story as a fictional embellishment, a touch of literary fancy to dramatize the story or make the essential point that Jesus Christ’s birth was a matter of cosmic import, a cause for rejoicing in all heaven and earth. But Witherington says he would hesitate to call that scene from Luke a show of literary license. “The ancients believed God spoke to people, period – ‘thus saith the Lord.’ If as a modern person you believe the universe is a hermetically sealed contraption, then you will have trouble with that detail of the story,” he says, “but you have to be careful not to bring to the story your own preconceived ideas of what happened.” “We believe God is constantly at work. God was at work then and is today. The question we need always to ask about these texts is: Have the original inspired writers told us divine truth accurately and adequately, using the way they wanted to tell the truth?”
re F re SH in g TH e STorY
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i L LU M i n AT i n g
of old, James G. Pepper is pouring out his heart and soul and painstakingly creating a hand-lettered and hand-illustrated, one-of-a-kind version of the Bible.
Besides debates about historical truth, sheer familiarity with the Christmas narrative (and its distant Sunday-school cousin the Christmas pageant) can blunt the awe and excitement of the Gospel news. That’s when Wesley Seminary’s Ringe turns to artistic tradition to help refresh the story – painters, musicians, poets, carol writers and others who set out to do what the Gospels do – “tell stories crafted to evoke wonder. “As a poet once said, ‘We’re perpetually awaiting the rebirth of wonder,’” Ringe says. That sense of awe is something the mere recitation of age-old facts from a 2,000-year-old event cannot deliver, she suggests. The Christmas story comes alive for modern-day people when the poetry and grandeur of the Incarnation stir and come to inhabit one’s heart, ethics and actions. To awaken such feelings about the ancient story and dramatize the Christmas Incarnation’s claim on the present moment, Ringe says she often has her New Testament students sing the verse from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel! “We sing it as a prayer, because there is no peace today in Bethlehem,” she says. “But such poetry reminds us what the Gospels and the Christmas narratives are telling us: The Bible is the story of God’s engagement with God’s people.” — Ray Waddle is a religion columnist based in Bethel, Conn., and editor of Reflections, the theological journal of Yale Divinity School.
For the past 23 years, the United Methodist layman from Dallas has been creating this complex work of art and inspiration he calls the Pepper Bible. After reproducing the Scriptures by hand in calligraphy, he adds intricate illustrations, “just like an ancient manuscript,” he explained. Pepper believes his is one of only a handful of handwritten, illustrated Bibles produced in the last 500 years. Pepper uses the technique called illumination, a form of manuscript decoration with col- James Pepper shows one of the highly ored, gilded pictures, decorated decorative illumiinitials and ornamental border nated pages from the designs. Illumination dates to Pepper Bible. early Christendom and was common during the Middle Ages, before the printing press replaced the need for handwritten Bibles. Pepper has already completed an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels, a separate and complete New Testament and several books of the Old Testament. His work is resplendent with original artwork. The Gospel of Luke, for example, contains 25 full-page illuminations and 440 illustrated first initials to passages. Illuminations introduce and enhance each chapter and many individual verses. “It’s a very beautiful book,” Pepper said. “People seem to like it.”
UmNS FILe PHoTo/STeve SmITH
B i B L e A r T i ST A n d S C H oL A r
Pepper uses the King James Version of the Bible. Before putting pen to paper, he researches the history and context of the passage. “I understand the Bible a whole lot better than I did before,” he admitted. “I know the history of the Bible and how it was put together. I know why things were written the way they were.” He began recreating the New Testament in calligraphy
open hearts. open minds. open doors.
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